Student veteran Jeffrey Saelens is experiencing the federal government shutdown firsthand — he and his wife have slashed their family budget to cope with reduced income.
Saelens, the president of the Carolina Veterans Organization, said the current and former military personnel reliant on government-funded financial aid have been added to the long list of people most affected by the government shutdown.
“This is a particularly tough time for veteran students who depend on their ROTC stipend, drill pay or certain VA benefits to make ends meet,” Saelens said in an email.
The Military Financial Aid and the Post 9/11 GI Bill provide varying degrees of coverage for students — but with the government shutdown still in full force, military veterans have been experiencing difficulties receiving their payments and benefits since the shutdown began.
“If the shutdown continues they will have to seriously re-evaluate what they consider a dependable source of income,” Saelens said.
‘Waiting and seeing’
Other universities are also facing trouble. Some schools aren’t receiving the aid to compensate the student veterans for their tuition, said Ann Marie Beall, director of military education in the UNC General Administration.
Schools across the UNC system, including UNC-CH, have agreed to hold payment for the students affected.
“They are anxious but the fortunate thing is that we have a body at General Administration that coordinates and facilitates these efforts,” Beall said.
“They have reached out to me and they are reassured when they hear that their sister campuses are all doing the same thing. That they are all holding their bills and waiting and seeing.”
Stuart Harness, president of the Military Veterans Club at Kenan-Flagler Business School, said he’s confident the shutdown will end and the federal government will come through for its veterans.
“The government will cover all the tuition,” Harness said. “I do not think that is an issue, it is just a question of when.”
Harness said there are places veterans can turn to for assistance while the shutdown persists.
“If they’re a veteran and a member of USAA, who meet some other criteria, USAA is going to provide an interest-free loan to bridge the gap if the government lacks funding,” he said.
“I think that if it continues on, you will see more organizations step up to help veterans, I don’t think there is any doubt about that.”
While these nonprofits can help these students, Harness added it’s only a temporary solution.
“The problem is that all those organizations combined cannot match the resources of the federal government,” he said.
“It depends on how many people help bridge the gap during the shutdown. That could easily tax the resources and other nonprofits really quickly.”
Military veteran and UNC student James House said he’s confident he’ll get the assistance he needs from UNC.
“It is my feeling that if this thing does not get resolved, veterans will be still be welcome in class in November and through the second semester,” he said.
“They will just defer payments until the government gets its stuff together.”
House said the thoughts among those affected are usually focused on veterans in more trying circumstances.
“Any conversation that I have with fellow veterans about this, it always circles back to ‘Yeah, but it could be worse, we could be in Afghanistan or Iraq or on a ship somewhere worried about what’s going on back at home.’”
“Everything circles back to those guys.”
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